W-B Man Gets Probation For Hacking Leighton’s Emails
SCRANTON — A Wilkes-Barre man featured in the “Kids for Cash” documentary was sentenced Friday to three years probation for illegally hacking into a computer.
Justin Bodnar, 29, pleaded guilty in August to a federal charge of illegally accessing a protected computer.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of four to 10 months in prison. Senior U.S. District Judge James Munley opted for probation, citing Bodnar’s efforts to rehabilitate himself in the years since his 2016 arrest.
Bodnar is now a student at Wilkes University and is set to graduate in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and math.
“I’m overcome by how well you did,” Munley said shortly after he imposed the sentence. “I’m sure you are going to be successful and are on the right road now.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert O’Hara did not oppose a probationary sentence, but asked Munley to consider a period of home confinement.
Bodnar was charged with hacking into the computer of former Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton in 2013 and attempting to sell emails he accessed. He also was charged with hacking into the computers of a former employer in 2012 and damaging the machines. Prosecutors dropped one of the charges in exchange for his plea.
Brandon Reish, Bodnar’s attorney, said the crime occurred during a dark time in Bodnar’s life when he was addicted to drugs. Shortly after committing the offense Bodnar was accepted at Wilkes University, where he took part in the creative writing program. With the help of mentors there he turned his life around.
In brief comments to the court, Bodnar said it’s difficult to think about the person he was at that time.
“I was a different person. I was a bad person,” Bodnar said. “I just feel awful about everything at that time in my life.”
Bodnar was among the juveniles whose cases were spotlighted in the 2014 documentary “Kids for Cash,” which examined excessive sentences handed down to juveniles by former Luzerne County judge Mark Ciavarella.
Ciavarella and former judge Michael Conahan were charged in 2009 with shipping children off to for-profit juvenile detention centers in exchange for $2.8 million in kickbacks from attorney Robert J. Powell, who owned the centers.
Conahan pleaded guilty to his role in the case in 2010 and was sentenced to 17½ years in federal prison. Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 28 years.
Robert May, producer of the film, and Bonnie Culver, director of the creative writing program at Wilkes University, spoke about the obstacles Bodnar has overcome.
Culver said Wilkes provided Bodnar a partial scholarship, but he still had to work and take loans to attend school.
“He had every reason … to quit in the last five years, but he did not,” she said.
May said Bodnar, who spent seven years in juvenile detention as a youth, has done a remarkable job in turning his life around.
“As he stands here today, he is not the same person I met in 2010,” May said. “I’m incredibly impressed with how he’s developed as a person.”
Bodnar hugged supporters and shook hands with O’Hara following the hearing. He politely declined to speak to the media.
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